Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hello? Are You Listening?

There were barricades across the road in front of me; the sign on one of them said: “Bridge Out”.
I was on my way to the retreat house last Tuesday when my route was blocked.  I had been heading west, but my options at the barricade were to go north or south on the cross-street.  I knew the retreat house was north of the road I was on, so I chose to go north.  At the first opportunity, I again turned west --- following two cars onto a very muddy road.  For about two miles I followed their muddy spray.  Finally arriving at the retreat house, my now brown car must have been at least twenty pounds heavier.  The next day I needed a book from my car, but when I went to the parking lot to retrieve it I noticed, strangely, that my car seemed to be the only muddy hulk in the lot!  On my way home Friday, the car wash was one of my first stops, and even after that I had to hand wipe all the small crevices the washer had missed; the mud was everywhere.
Tuesday evening at the retreat house, I noticed I had a message on my cell phone; clicking the message retrieval button I immediately heard a message in Spanish --- which I couldn’t turn off! 
I eventually was able to call a help line, but they were confused.  Accessing my phone remotely, they found that my service provider had changed the method for me to access messages, and loaded a Spanish version on my phone in error.  They corrected that, but told me I now would require a password to get my messages --- and I was irritated!  Driving home, the second place I stopped was the office of my service provider.  They fixed my phone to automatically enter the (now) required password, but … now three separate recordings spoke before every message I accessed, telling me time, length and number calling of the message.  And I was irritated, (again!) at this new “service” I had to accept.
On the way home from the retreat on Friday, there was a fire truck across the road in front of me, and a number of police cars.  I don’t know what happened, but I had to turn (again).
I had been on an unfamiliar road heading south, and I turned west at the detour because that was the ultimate direction I desired.  I had to go a couple of miles before I could again turn south.  And as I drove I worried:  could I get on the expressway from this road?  As I neared the expressway, I saw a sign: turn right for the expressway west, and so I did.  As I drove along the frontage road, I saw an exit ramp merging onto this road.  And then a way further on, I saw another exit ramp merging.  “Where the heck is an entrance ramp, I wondered aloud,” as I came to a red light.  It was then that I noticed the guy(?) in the heavy coat, standing next to the car two up from me.  Was that one of those “Let me wash your windshield for you” guys?  Oh, no! Then he stepped back from the car and looked back --- at me!  Oh, no!  The light turned green; the cars began to move.  The guy --- no, it was a woman --- VERY, VERY SLOWLY limped back toward her shopping cart by the side of the road, which was filled with plastic bags.  Oh, no, and I thought of the $5 sitting in my wallet, --- as I passed, not able to stop with moving cars all around me; not able to turn around on the one-way road, and then I went down the freeway entrance ramp in front of me, ashamed.  The moment had passed.
What do all three of the above events have in common?  All three started with an event beyond my control, an irritation to my plans.  Do you (or I?) remember what I wrote about irritations just a few days back?
“It is good for me to recognize that when I am irritated
there is a reason:  God has a lesson for me.  I should
trust that God puts this person or event in my life for
a reason or purpose.  I need to trust.”
How quickly I/we forget. 
Look back at my words following those three events above.  I could take, litterly, every sentence I wrote and turn it into a long meditation about what God was telling me.  I was three days on a retreat.  Why did I worry and pray so much about MY concerns, when God so readily showed me His? 
I can’t help but notice that of late God seems to be nudging me three times before I get it, as with the above three “irritations”.  I guess it is a great blessing that He does not give up on me, despite all the times it seems He has to almost yell at me: “Hello?  Are you listening?”
(Or, perhaps that He has to remind me three times is a reminder of something else which I DO remember: “Three strikes and you’re out!”)
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Today, as I write this, is the feast day of St. Augustine.  And I was reminded of His faith journey, which so seems to parallel mine (and yours?), and of how he eventually listened to God’s calling, and then prayed:
O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity.  You are my God.  To you do I sigh day and night.  When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them.  Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread.  I learned that I was in a region unlike yours and far distant from you, and I thought I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men; grow then, and you will feed on me.  Nor will you change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me.
I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. …
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in a breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
                                    Confessions, by St. Augustine
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This morning, as I was out delivering Meals on Wheels food, I came to a stop sign.  There, sitting on a plastic bucket was a man holding a cardboard sign: “NEED HELP”.  I glance behind and saw no cars as I reached for my wallet.  There was only $10.  As I gave it to him I wondered: Was this in atonement for the woman I passed by?  And then I had another thought, those words you sometimes hear blared out on late night radio or television: “This is only a test.  If this had been a real emergency …..”

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Retreat, But the Battle Goes On

Today I end a three-day retreat at the Capuchin Retreat House.  It is a quiet, out-of-the-way place, surrounded by trees and natural beauty.  Before coming, in my mind’s eye, I saw myself walking the many quiet pathways through the trees, meditating on God’s words --- both written and in the beauty around me.  I brought a blanket with me to lay on the grass in the afternoon sun, where I could read and reflect on problems I brought with me, and the answers I expected.
That ain’t what happened.
The three days here were cool, cloudy and rainy.  I did get to lay on the blanket in the sun --- for about 45 minutes, before the cool breeze and drops came again.  And I did get to see the deer, though not on the quiet paths as I expected, but outside my bedroom window, where they were munching on grass and sometimes looking right at me --- through the rain.  Oh, I did have the quiet I planned for --- there were few guests around --- but most of it was in the chapel.  I had wonderful times there, and my evening rosary meditations stretched for hours --- on topics He put into my heart, not the ones I had planned to resolve.
So, I will consider my worries another day, still seeking answers, or perhaps finally coming to the realization that these weren’t important things, and to stop worrying.  I DO see those words “Do Not Be Anxious” every day, for a reason, I guess.
Meanwhile, as I sit in the retreat house cafeteria having my morning coffee, alone, I plan my packing and look out the window and see a bright morning sun, and a cloudless sky.  My plans may not have been accomplished here, but I think He’s telling me to see the light of His plans, not my dark worries.
And trust.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Gathering of Friends

On Sunday afternoon, Greg and Judy invited some of their friends and relatives to their summer home on the lake, including me.  Everyone brought food, and all of it was wonderful --- lots of recipes were exchanged.  Our hosts played hosts, as Greg captained excursions on the pontoon boat while Judy played Mary, cooking and cleaning, yet still took time to be Martha at the feet of her guests.
And much of the afternoon was spent in “Sunday talk,” about God in our lives.  It was a wonderful exchange, and wonderful for so many to witness God’s love of them.  Everyone is called to grow in holiness their whole life, so it is natural that some would be more and some still less in their growth, but most of this group was elderly in the faith, and were able to exchange thoughts readily understood and appreciated by all.  There were no words of “Wow, wasn’t that a coincidence” when miracles were described.  Rather, there were many sincere “Praise God’s” exclaimed.  And although the guests were not close friends --- some only knew each other through the hosts --- yet they still loved one another.  The day felt so right, a perfect use for a Sunday afternoon, a gathering of faithful friends, faith-filled friends.
Among those present were some recent converts, sponsored in the RCIA program by Greg and Judy.  Younger people with their children, much of their day was spent being parents, yet they too yearned to spend time in conversation on spiritual matters.  (Two of them rode home with me, and we had further interesting conversation on the drive.)
The day started with prayer, and was a wonderful day.  I think that I too shall plan a gathering soon of special faith-filled friends in my life, to celebrate all God’s blessings I have through my friends.  I think coming together to celebrate God’s goodness to us is a good thing, and a good reason.
Looking back on Sunday, there is only one thing which could have made the day more perfect.  During the end-of-the-day exchanging of plates, recipes, and leftovers --- and hugs --- we could have again held hands and closed in a prayer of Thanksgiving.
I said mine tonight, as I recalled these events.
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Then all my gladsome way along,
I sing aloud thy praises,
That men may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises;
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart,
Both soul and body, bear your part;
To God all praise and glory.
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These gatherings on earth are wonderful, of young and of old, gently blowing on the sparks of faith, and stoking the flames of trust.  How I pray that we may see, together, such a gathering again, with our Eternal Host.